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Sir Peter's taste for swan has him fall foul of law

SIR Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, is under police investigation after officers raided his kitchen - and discovered he had prepared a dead swan for his dinner.

Sir Peter said he found the electrocuted bird beneath power lines and was planning to make it into a "delicious" terrine.

His menu has not impressed the authorities, however. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which applies across the UK, the whooper swan is a protected species.

Events began when the composer was in London preparing his first major work as Master of the Queen’s Music, a piece to commemorate the end of the Second World War.

It was then police spotted the dead swan maturing outside his cottage on the island of Sanday and took the carcass away as evidence. Officers also took a pair of swan wings they found in a shed, which Sir Peter was planning to donate to the local school for the Angel Gabriel’s wings in the annual nativity play.

The 70-year-old said he was astonished to find the police on his doorstep on Monday with a warrant to search his home - and, in particular, his freezer.

"I saw them whizzing up the lane to the house," he said. "There was a very charming young man and a very beautiful young lady. They were very polite, but quite firm that I might have committed a felony by being in possession of a protected bird."

Sir Peter voluntarily handed over the leg of a swan he had stored in the freezer. "The meat is very dark and rich," he added. "It’s a bit like pheasant with a hint of venison as well."

"I’d give you the recipe for the terrine - but now I know I could end up in the chiller, I don’t want anyone else to get into trouble as well."

Sir Peter said he offered the police officers some swan terrine he had made earlier, but they had turned down the chance to taste the rare delicacy. "They told me they are taking this very seriously," he said. "I was cautioned and told that anything I said could be given in evidence."

He added: "I might yet be in Inverness Prison, but I suspect that being the Master of the Queen’s Music I might have to do porridge in the Tower of London."

Sir Peter said whooper swans flying out to breed in Iceland on their migratory flights are often caught in overhead wires.

"They occasionally go into the overhead electrical wires when they are taking off or landing on the lake," he said. "I am afraid that some people eat them. We take them home and hang them for four days and then we take out the breast and good leg meat and give the rest to the cats."

Sir Peter said he consulted the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about finding dead swans, and was advised to dispose of them. "I was under the illusion that it would be alright to eat the best parts - rather than feed them to the cat," he said.

"I was going to use the breast and leg meat to make a terrine. I’ve done it before, and it really is delicious."

Under Udal Law, the ancient Norse system of inheritance and law which the Viking settlers brought to Orkney, the swan is the property of the people rather than the Crown. Sir Peter admitted it was common for locals to eat swan.

The RSPB said they were unsure what the penalty would be, if any, for taking a swan that was already dead to eat. Wildlife crime can carry a maximum fine of 5,000 or jail term of six months.

Northern Constabulary confirmed a property was searched under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but as enquiries are continuing refused to comment further on their findings.

The composer said he was waiting to hear whether he would be charged and face an appearance in court.

"I’d really appreciate some guidance on where the law stands on this," he said. "Now I’m working so closely with Buckingham Palace I can’t afford to step outside the law - not that I’ve ever wanted to, of course."

Although he added: "In some ways I would welcome going to prison because I think the whole experience would inspire some very interesting music."

Sir Peter’s Reconciliation ’45 is to be performed for the first time on 6 June at the Westminster Central Hall, London, in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

"Naturally I’ve informed Buckingham Palace," he said. "Now I’m just hoping I’ll still be a free man - and not locked up in the Tower of London - at the time of my first big concert as Master of the Queen’s Music."

The composer’s London-based manager said Sir Peter, known locally as Max, had given a statement to police.

"He’s acted perfectly legally," she said. "He did whatever anyone else does when a swan comes down. He phoned the local bird warden and was told to dispose of it."

Eric Meek, area manager for the Orkney branch of the RSPB, confirmed Sir Peter had been in touch. "Swans are very prone to hitting overhead wires," he said. "When Max finds one he gives me a call and asks me what to do with it. I say simply dispose of it.

"I know Max well and he is a great conservationist. There is no way on Earth he would ever want to kill a swan."

A national spokesman for the RSPB said killing whooper swans could result in jail or a fine.

However, he was unsure of the law if a swan was found dead and taken to be eaten.

The dynastic delicacy to which the Crown swears royal allegiance

SWAN meat was a gourmet dish often seen as the magnificent centrepiece for a medieval banquet.

But since those times, when all swans were assigned royal status, it is a dish almost exclusively enjoyed by royals.

The mute swan has been a royal bird since at least 1186 and was formally assigned royal status in the Act of Swans in 1482.

Under the act, any other owners of swans were required to mark their property by way of a succession of nicks in the birds’ beaks.

It was the duty of the Royal Swanmaster to organise the annual swan-upping on the Thames, when the cygnets are rounded up and marked, which survives in symbolic form to this day.

With their royal rank, it became a status symbol to eat swan. It was a tasty ceremonial dish, until superseded by turkey early last century.

Today, the Queen still has ownership of all swans in the UK except in one small corner of the British Isles - the Orkney Isles.

Under Udal Law, the ancient Norse system of inheritance and law, which the Viking settlers brought to Orkney, the swan is the property of the people, rather than the Crown.

The case was proven in 1910 by a Kirkwall lawyer who, accompanied by his friend, the Procurator-Fiscal, went out to Harray Loch and shot a swan. The case went to the High Court and the Crown lost.

Nowadays, Orcadians do not shoot swans, but the principles of the old Norse Udal Law still stand.

The swan is protected across the entire Great Britain by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

 
 
 

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